Introduction to Avian Influenza

Agricultural Disaster Preparedness and Recovery July 15, 2013 Print Friendly and PDF


Domestic Chickens
Schaefer, G. (Photographer). (2005).

Avian influenza, also known as avian flu or bird flu, is an infectious disease of birds caused by type A strains of the influenza virus. Wild waterfowl, such as ducks and geese, are considered to be the natural reservoirs for influenza viruses. The wild birds carry the virus in their intestines, but do not usually show any signs of illness. However, avian influenza can make some domesticated birds, including domestic chickens, ducks, and turkeys, very sick and kill them. In some cases, once the avian influenza virus has mutated in domestic poultry, there is scientific evidence that the mutated virus can then infect and kill wild waterfowl. In recent years, the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain found in poultry has infected and killed humans and has been referred to as bird flu.

Avian influenza occurs worldwide and has become of great importance to animal and human health. Lack of timely scientific information about various aspects of the disease has hampered prevention and control efforts in many countries, including the United States. Millions of birds have died or been destroyed. There is growing concern over the loss of human lives and about managing potential pandemics of the highly pathogenic strains of the avian influenza virus.


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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.